The Sharpshooter: (Flash Fiction)
Clinton Hawke was known as "The Sharpshooter" around the National Football League. As a walk-on in 1970, he'd earned the job as starting quarterback with the Sacramento Searchers. He was called the sharpshooter because of his unique throwing style. He put a perfect spiral on it, of course---tight and pretty as you please. But as he released the pigskin, its trajectory much more closely resembled that of a powerfully thrown baseball, traveling parallel to the ground, than that of a football, with its customarily looping arc.
It was not a technique for distance. He didn't throw the "deep ball" very well. He didn't like throwing it. Putting himself in the shoes of the receiver, Clinton found it too random. He thought about the receiver, waiting there, with all that time as the ball descends from the clouds, wondering about what might go wrong; Would a gust of wind come along and blow it off course? How far would he get after he caught the ball? Who would be the one to knock the stuffing out of him the moment he got his hands on it? But of course, it was the job of the wide receiver, especially, to deal with such contingencies.
His was a throwing technique made for accuracy. That's why he was known as the sharpshooter, having achieved an astounding, utterly unheard of pass completion percentage of eighty-six percent.
Clinton Hawke had that quality that quarterbacks in this league need to have to be truly great: He made the other players around him better. Clinton took that ho-hum offensive squad he'd been given to work with, and marched them inexorably down the field to the promised land of the endzone. He did this by throwing short and intermediate passes.
The Searchers's running game had always been subpar. That would need to get fixed if they had any hope of becoming an offensive threat. Clinton noticed that the two starting running backs weren't very good. They were both bulldozer, run-straight-up-the-middle, between tackles types. What they lacked in speed and explosiveness, they more than made up for with the heavy-footed, lumbering quality of "The Little Engine That Could." That is to say, they were at least diligent.
The wide receivers, being wide receivers, had speed, enough anyway. In order to get positive rushing yardage, therefore, Clinton would have the wide receivers play running back and the running backs play wide receiver.
He did not ask too much of his running backs-playing-receivers. All they had to do was wander downfield, gradually as was their wont, turn around, and, if there wasn't any defenders from the other team near them, use their minimal motor skills to catch the ball. Their QB did not require them to make any dynamic plays. There was no need for them to make acrobatic, contortionistic kinds of cathces, because The Sharpshooter unerringly pinned the ball right between the numbers of their jerseys. If they managed to cover some ground after the catch, say, ten steps, well, that was icing on the cake.
With these things, the time of ball possession for the Sacramento Searchers increased dramatically, allowing that rather porous, lackluster defensive unit much needed rest on the sidelines---so that when they hit the field, being well rested, they could play somewhat above their natural skill level.
Clinton put in these changes without the objections or interferrence from the head coach, a rather weak character who had just been coaching Division III college ball the year before. The poor thing was just so thrilled to be in the National Football League. Besides, the head coach took the credit, in the team press conferences, as the visionary genius who had conceived of and implemented those idiosyncratic alterations, given the real measure of success they had brought the team.
Yes, Clinton had almost single-handedly made the team serviceable. In time, with a few lucky acquisitions, the Sacramento Searchers actually became pretty good.
Clinton Hawke was also "The Sharpshooter," because he'd been one in the Vietnam War, a sniper with five-hundred-forty-nine confirmed kills to his credit. He had brought that same lethal professionalism to the game of football.
The going got tough and the tough got going. And so it was that after eight long years, with Clinton Hawke playing the best football of his career, the Sacramento Searchers defeated the Reno Speculators to become the Superbowl World Champions. As the sharpshooter, Mr. Series MVP, hoisted that Vince Lombardi trophy above his head, someone, from somewhere, fired a single shot, striking Clinton almost dead-center of his forehead. He fell down.
Clinton Hawke had been assassinated. There had only been one shot. No one else had been targeted or hurt. The murderer was never found.
Clinton lay on the ground about to expire, with his coach by his side, and still clutching the Superbowl trophy. With much convulsive twitchy jittering, Clinton pulled out his wallet, and from his wallet a note, which he gave to his coach. The note read:
Let it be written on my tombstone:
born April 19, 1940 -- ? (today's date)
He lived and died as The Sharpshooter!